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Pull That Tag!

We’ve gone over some of the rules about dialogue and dialogue tags in previous posts. The basics are covered in “Tag, You’re Dialogue!” and some details about punctuation and verb use is covered in “Tag, You’re Dialogue! Punctuation Edition.” In this post, I want to highlight problems that occur when writers aren’t careful about tag placement–and situations when what follows the piece of dialogue is not a tag.

“I don’t want to go to the store.” I decide not to argue. 

Looking at the above dialogue and dialogue tag, how many characters do you think there are in the scene?

If you said one character, good answer–that’s what the answer should be, if the writer has written it correctly. Dialogue tags connect a piece of dialogue with the character who is speaking. The tag adds information about that character, or about what the character has said. There are a few reasons why we don’t connect something that Character A says with something that Character B thinks. The simplest reason is that it can become impossible to tell who is speaking and who is responding.

But if I tell you that the piece of dialogue and following sentence are not written correctly, how many characters are there? Look at the dialogue again, this time with the dialogue and response separated by a paragraph break:

“I don’t want to go to the store.”

I decide not to argue.

In this case, we read that Character A has said the piece of dialogue, and Character B has made a decision about what Character A said. The paragraph break changes how we read the two sentences. When writing scenes between two (or more) characters, don’t place a piece of dialogue together with the other (or another) character’s interior response. Always start the responding thought with a new paragraph.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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